Sunday, 22 November 2015

Prepare to fight the electric motoring lobby

It's easy to view "the motoring lobby" as one vast mass of lobbyists, all pushing for the same thing: more roads, cheaper fuel, no parking/waiting/loading restrictions, no road use charges (c-zone, bridges), no speed tickets, etc. And of course: no "unrealistic" pollution controls, such as EURO6 diesel testing in real-world scenarios.

That's a simplistic view —and by identifying the different groups and their agendas, it helps to recognise the threats and opportunities.

Freight Transport Association (and their mouthpiece fair fuel UK): these want the £15B in road upgrades, and may be the main beneficiaries. Along with the fuel escalator freeze and raising of HGV speed limits on single carriageway roads, they're really getting their way these days. The FTA have a conflict of interest related to tipper-truck killings in London. Do they admit that the tipper truck industry, with its pay-per-delivery business model and utter lack of enforced regulation is broken, that more regulation is needed. Or do they blame the cyclists. Take a guess.

HGV truck drivers are, long-term, fucked. Autonomous driving will be easier to roll out on motorways due to the simpler road structure. Given the tangible safety benefits of self-driving trucks versus truck drivers on illegal 18 hour shifts watching iPlayer videos to keep awake —legislation legalising autonomous trucks will target motorways first.  The FTA members own those near-motorway distribution centres, and if they can reduce costs by eliminating those truck drivers, will gain a better return on investment that individual commuters. Destroying those truck driver jobs is going to be a traumatic change for those employees, especially in the US, where its the #1 job in many states. Should the cycling campaigns care? Maybe they should support roll-out of autonomous HGVs as fast as possible, even to the extent of setting a timetable for banning manual trucks.

Uber. Uber want to be able to run the world's largest minicab system without the need to pay tax or perform any oversight of their staff. They'd love to get into bus lanes in London, as Addison Lee desire. They benefit from the fact that there's no per-mile billing of car use in cities. If, say, TfL and other regulatory bodies did use GPS unit to (a) add some such taxation and (b) charge more when breaking the speed limit, we'd see a more realistic cost model along with elimination of that problem which exists outside london: aggressive minicab drivers trying to drive at 40 mph in a shared use bus lane. The licensing authorities should also be more aggressive about insurance. Ideally, they'd actually have some fitness to drive standard —but we know that isn't coming.

Uber drivers are, long-term, fucked. Uber has no loyalty to their "associates" and are funding research in self-driving cars because it will keep their costs down and customers happy. Should we care? Yes, if its goal is increasing the number of vehicles on the road, and if Uber want to get those cars into bus lanes.

The LTDA. These are the representative of everyone who resents a millimetre of space being allocated to survivable cycling in the city. Their view is that they've got a livelihood to maintain, and it is threatened by Uber, congestion, and every attempt to make cities better to live in. The addison lee protests shows that there is common grounds with cyclists over defending bus lanes —but that was because of mutual interest. They don't see the same way about keeping cyclists in lanes away from themselves, or in reducing congestion and pollution by getting people to cycle. A militant organisation with discreet backing from their OMIL users in canary wharf and elsewhere.

Taxi drivers are, long-term, fucked. Self-driving cars will take their jobs away too. As somewhat independent drivers, they don't have their employer actively working to eliminate their jobs (contrast with: Uber, FTA), but the same technical trends hurt them. Short term, they are crippled, especially in London, by the cars they are required to drive. That's the cause of a lot of diesel pollution in inner London —the taxis that they are forced to use. TfL and others need to think hard about how to move them to electric/hybrid. Where there is an opportunity there it may be to work on inductive charging in taxi bays. Rather than have the taxis sit their with their diesel engines running, poisoning the air outside train stations, hospitals and other places, those could be charge points.  Or they could embrace hydrogen fuel early: you don't need nationwide fuel infrastructure for London's taxis, just a few dedicated stations which they can visit.  Yet to think about things like that needs the LTDA and peers to lift their heads out of the daily mail, stop cutting op the cyclists, and think about the future.

SMMT. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders want to sell more cars in the UK. That's all they give a fuck about, and anything related to urban pollution is something they pretend their current cars address —and future cars address even better —including EURO6 diesels. Same goes for safety: future cars won't kill people.

If the dieselgate scandal grows their stance will be predictable —offer owners of dirty diesel government kickbacks/reduced tax on new models. We need to be prepared to respond to that by demanding that diesel owners get the same discount on new bicycles. Want to turn in a diesel car for £1000 of a new car? The owners should get the same government cash to buy bicycles for the whole family, or a season ticket from Woking to central london for a year.

The SMMT are keeping so quiet on dieselgate —they are clearly hoping it will blow over and people will keep buying today's cars.

Where SMMT are weak is that 2016 will be a stupid year to buy a car, especially a diesel one. The next generation of engines are going to have to be hybrid petrol or electric —dieselgate has shown that. Today's electric cars have atrocious depreciation, but Tesla's future models promise to bring costs down. If you want a new car, hold off until then.

Equally critically, self-driving cars will transform what a a car is. Buy a 2016 car and you will have to  drive it yourself. Put off buying a new car for 2-3 years, and you'll have one that drives for you. That's fundamentally different in a way that today's self-parking and lane-tracking models won't come close to competing with. A new car will be obsolete as fast as a windows phone. So will older cars —but if you let them depreciate more, you can put aside money for the new models. Or just buy a 2016 model at a massive discount.

The SMMT dare not admit this, because they depend on sales today. They want their customers to buy a new car in 2016, —and then upgrade to a self-driving one in 2018.

A key problem they have is demographics. Their real customers are getting older; the younger generations are the ones most fucked by global warming -and the most likely to want to not make things worse. That trend towards urban living is even more disastrous. If you live in the inner city, you don't need to commute by car, you don't have space for one anyway. And in particular, you don't have the need to own a short-range commute-only electric car, or the driveway or garage needed to charge the car overnight. Car clubs and maybe weekend rentals are all these people need, which can free up space in the cities. That's space which is going to be fought over. We need to make sure that it goes towards cycling and not charge points or dedicated lanes for electric cars.

The current car retailers are, long term, fucked on a number of fronts. As well as demographics, Tesla have shown that they aren't needed at all. Why go through an independent dealer when you can go straight to the manufacturer? No matter how hard the dealers talk about how they care more, how they offer independence and servicing, online shopping and continuously integrated monitoring and maintenance changes the purchasing and maintenance story. As will self-driving cars. Why drop a car off for repairs when your tesla is booked in for a charge and service at 4am to 6am on a Tuesday evening? It can go and do that itself and a Tesla station 50 miles away. You just don't need those local dealers any more.

The european car manufacturers. These are in trouble but can survive if they adapt fast. They've focused on diesel as the solution, because they know how to make engines, and think they can keep tweaking them. Dieselgate has given the game away. Now they need to play catch-up with tesla and the Japanese manufactures. They're pushing hydrogen powered cars as the future, as it retains those old skills: engines. But it needs a whole new infrastructure in fuelling cars to be rolled out. They'll be asking for government cash to do this: we need to make a better case for uses of the money.

Again, demographics threatens them. They need to keep people commuting from the suburbs to the towns. And there they are also their own worst enemy. Congestion destroys the value in driving. And no matter how hard Audi and others claim their Urban SUVs make being stuck in a traffic jam fun, it isn't.

To survive there they need autonomous driving to make those hours stuck in jams useful. They need to make sure there are parking places in the city for those commuters, short-stay parking outside shops, school runs where you can drop your kids off.

Anything which changes cities for walking, cycling and public transport threatens their very existence. We have no common ground here —we are competing for the same roadspace.

Anything which threatens urban car use threatens them. ULEZ zones, especially any that block out rigged EURO6 diesel engines will say "you can't drive here". Congestion zones rolled out across more inner cities will do for them what they've done for London; made driving into the city centres a luxury. 20 mph limits remove even the illusion that driving in a city is fun, no matter what the adverts say. Expanded resident parking zones (hello Bristol!) even making parking a premium option. It's not a coincidence that the people who hate RPZ parking hate 20 mph zones, and that it's the commute-by-car suburbs who are most up in arms about it.

The secondary motor industry. The petrol stations, the Halfords of this world; the cheaper-than the the approved-retailer garages. They are fucked already. Improving fuel economy (when real) reduces visits to petrol stations. While congestion may increase fuel use, hybrid cars kills that, and if it suppresses driving, even conventional engine'd vehicles will use less. The increasing technical sophistication of modern engines and cars means that home-maintenance is dying —look at Halford's numbers to see this. Look at how those shops selling aftermarket car stereos and alarms have gone. Fucked, all of them.

Common ground? Halford's have embraced cycling. Petrol stations? The supermarkets have fucked them. There are other uses of that city space.

Where we have a new threat is the electric motoring lobby.

These are the car companies sluggishly embracing electric power; seeing it as the way to get round restrictions on urban car use which will be rolled out for pollution reasons. They've gone to central government for cash for the factories, they've gone to central government for the cash-backs on overpriced 2nd cars —and you can be sure they are now going after local governments for special treatment too.

Because it doesn't matter what engine type you have —it still takes the same amount of time to sit in the same traffic jam.

That's why they have their greedy eyes on the bus lanes. There's room for more cars there, and if you can drive in them, you get a tangible benefit in commuter times, in exchange for a car that depreciates faster than a Fiat Pinto. If your car is worthless in five years, you wan't to use that car every day. And of course, with a range of 100 miles that will only decrease over time, that commute is essential to getting those miles in.

TfL are against it, so are Edinburgh Council.

What the electric car lobby can do is brief the press, which is what they do

They also get to the politicians, where they can say "we've invested so much, you've invested so much —let's open up the bus lanes".

They've clearly got to Zac Goldsmith, who now thinks he can retain some green credentials while appealing to the suburban driving voter.

This needs be stamped on fast —as what happens in London will serve as a role model for the rest of Britain.

At least here Oslo is now providing an example of why not. Even though the number of electric cars is <35K, they're filling up the bus lanes enough for their privileges to be slowly reverted, and now they have a plan to make the city centre car free. Those can be used as as arguments, along with the same one used by central government to slash funding for all renewable energy sources, "the cost of electric cars has fallen enough they don't need subsidies"

Even so, those bus lanes will remain a juicy target. For the new electric motoring lobby, and perhaps companies like google and uber, who will be able to say "autonomous cars can replace buses'

That's already happening in the US, where a bus lane near google is being blocked because it won't be needed. You can be confident Google, Tesla, Uber and others did a lot of lobbying there. —and they'll be doing the same in the UK.

What can we do?
  1. There's common cause with the taxi drivers again. They may hate the cyclists, but they hate Uber more.  Some protests outside Zac Goldsmith election events may get that point across -and with both cyclists and taxi drivers there, it'll appear less of a single special interest group protesting.
  2. Ask for the electric car and diesel replacement money. Now. Put out press releases saying "if the government is planning any funding to replace dirty diesels, people should be allowed to buy bicycles and public transport season tickets with it.". Mention the season tickets, so anyone who commutes from south london from distances too far to cycle will be supportive of the idea.
  3. Have quotes ready for anyone in the press who is briefed by the electric car lobby. The TfL and EDC papers are good —they are independent data which shows that bus passengers are hurt as much as cyclists.
  4. Finally, it highlights why bus lanes cannot be considered cycling infrastructure. They last only as long as the next mayor of a city. The embankment bike lanes, the bridge crossings -they will endure. Bus lanes: they have to be fought for, again and again —just so cyclists have the right to cycle behind a diesel taxi with a bus up their arse.

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